Grateful Dead members backstage during the early 1980s (l-r): Brent Mydland, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann. Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart are not pictured.
|Origin||San Francisco, California, U.S.|
|Labels||Warner Bros., Grateful Dead, Arista, Rhino|
|Associated acts||The Other Ones, The Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, RatDog, Phil Lesh and Friends, Rhythm Devils, BK3, Donna Jean Godchaux Band, Heart of Gold Band, Missing Man Formation, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Old and in the Way, Legion of Mary, Reconstruction, Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, Kingfish, Bobby and the Midnites, The Tubes, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Dylan, Furthur|
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan
Donna Jean Godchaux
The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The band was known for its unique and eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, country, jazz, psychedelia, and space rock—and for live performances of long musical improvisation. "Their music," writes Lenny Kaye, "touches on ground that most other groups don't even know exists."
The fans of the Grateful Dead, some of whom followed the band from concert to concert for years, are known as "Deadheads" and are known for their dedication to the band's music. Many refer to the band simply as "the Dead." As of 2003, the remaining band members who had been touring under the name "The Other Ones" changed their official group name to "The Dead". Deadheads continue to use that nickname to refer to all versions of the band.
The Grateful Dead's musical influences varied widely; in concert recordings or on record albums one can hear psychedelic rock, blues, rock and roll, country-western, bluegrass, country-rock, and improvisational jazz. These various influences were distilled into a diverse and psychedelic whole that made the Grateful Dead "the pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world." They were ranked 55th in the issue "The Greatest Artists of all Time" by Rolling Stone magazine.
Lead guitarist Jerry Garcia was often seen both by the public and the media as the leader or primary spokesperson for the Grateful Dead, but was reluctant to be perceived that way, especially since he and the other group members saw themselves as equal participants and contributors to their collective musical and creative output. Garcia, a native of San Francisco, grew up in the Excelsior District. One of his main influences was bluegrass music, and Garcia also performed—on banjo, one of his other great instrumental loves, along with the pedal steel guitar—in bluegrass bands, notably Old and in the Way with mandolinist David Grisman.
Classically trained trumpeter Phil Lesh played bass guitar. Bob Weir, the youngest original member of the group, played rhythm guitar. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan played keyboards and harmonica until shortly before his death in 1973 at the age of 27. Garcia, Weir and McKernan shared the lead vocal duties more or less equally; Lesh only sang a few leads but his tenor was a key part of the band's four-part vocal harmonies. Bill Kreutzmann played drums, and in September 1967 was joined by a second drummer, New York native Mickey Hart, who also played a wide variety of other percussion instruments. Hart quit the Grateful Dead in February 1971, leaving Kreutzmann once again as the sole percussionist. Mickey Hart rejoined the Grateful Dead for good in October 1974. Tom "TC" Constanten was added as a second keyboardist from 1968 to 1970, while Pigpen also played various percussion instruments and sang.
After Constanten's departure, Pigpen reclaimed his position as sole organist. Less than two years later, in late 1971, Pigpen was joined by another keyboardist, Keith Godchaux, who played grand piano alongside Pigpen's Hammond B-3 organ. In early 1972, Keith's wife, Donna Jean Godchaux, joined the Dead as a backing vocalist.
Following the Grateful Dead's "Europe '72" tour, Pigpen's health had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer tour with the Dead. His final concert appearance was June 17, 1972 at the Hollywood Bowl, in Los Angeles; he died in March, 1973 of complications from alcohol abuse.
Keith and Donna Jean left the band in 1979, and Brent Mydland joined as keyboardist and vocalist. The Godchauxs then formed the Heart of Gold Band before Keith Godchaux died in a car accident in 1980. Mydland was the keyboardist for the Grateful Dead for 11 years until his death by narcotics overdose in July 1990, becoming the third Dead keyboardist to pass away. Almost immediately, Vince Welnick, former keyboardist for The Tubes, joined on keyboards and vocals. Welnick stayed with the band until Garcia's death, but he was never a member of the Other Ones or the Dead. Welnick died on June 2, 2006, reportedly a suicide.
The singer-songwriter Bruce Hornsby never officially joined the band, because of his other commitments, but he did play keyboards at most Dead shows between September 1990 and March 1992, and sat in with the band over one hundred times in all between 1988 and 1995.
Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow were the band's primary lyricists. Twelve members of The Grateful Dead (the eleven official performing members plus Robert Hunter) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, and Bruce Hornsby was their presenter.
According to the database on the official website, Dead.net, the band's first show was at Magoo's Pizza in suburban Menlo Park, California on May 5, 1965. They were still known as the Warlocks at the time, The show was not recorded and not even the set list has been preserved. The band changed its name after finding out that another band of the same name had signed a recording contract. The first show under the new name Grateful Dead was in San Jose, California on December 4, 1965, at one of Ken Kesey's Acid Tests. Earlier demo tapes have survived, but the first of over 2,000 concerts known to have been recorded by the band's fans was a show at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco on January 8, 1966.
The charter members of the Grateful Dead were: banjo and guitar player Jerry Garcia, guitarist Bob Weir, bluesman organist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, the classically trained bassist Phil Lesh and drummer Bill Kreutzmann (who then used the stage name Bill Sommers.) Lesh was the last member to join the Warlocks before they became the Grateful Dead: he replaced Dana Morgan Jr. who had played bass for a few gigs. With the exception of McKernan, the core of the band stayed together for 30 years, until Garcia's death in 1995.
The name Grateful Dead was chosen from a dictionary. According to Phil Lesh, in his biography (pp. 62), "...Jer[ry Garcia] picked up an old Britannica World Language Dictionary...[and]...In that silvery elf-voice he said to me, 'Hey, man, how about the Grateful Dead?'" The definition there was "the soul of a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial." According to Alan Trist, director of the Grateful Dead's music publisher company Ice Nine, Garcia found the name in the Funk & Wagnalls Folklore Dictionary, when his finger landed on that phrase while playing a game of "dictionary". In the Garcia biography, Captain Trips, author Sandy Troy states that the band was smoking the psychedelic DMT at the time. The term "Grateful Dead" appears in folktales of a variety of cultures.
In the summer of '69, Phil Lesh told another version of the story to Carol Maw, a young Texan visiting with the band in Marin County who also ended up going on the road with them to the Fillmore East and Woodstock. In this version, Phil said, "Jerry found the name spontaneously when he picked up a dictionary and the pages fell open. The words 'grateful' and 'dead' appeared straight opposite each other across the crack between the pages in unrelated text." [grateful | dead]
The Grateful Dead formed during the era when bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were dominating the airwaves. "The Beatles were why we turned from a jug band into a rock 'n' roll band," said Bob Weir. "What we saw them doing was impossibly attractive. I couldn't think of anything else more worth doing" Former folk-scene star Bob Dylan had recently put out a couple of records featuring electric instrumentation. Grateful Dead members have said that it was after attending a concert by the touring New York City band The Lovin' Spoonful that they decided to "go electric" and look for a dirtier sound. Gradually, many of the East-Coast American folk musicians, formerly luminaries of the coffee-house scene, were moving in the electric direction. It was natural for Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, each of whom had been immersed in the American folk music revival of the late 1950s and early '60s, to be open-minded toward electric guitars. But the new Dead music was also naturally different from bands like Dylan's or the Spoonful, partly because their fellow musician Phil Lesh came out of a schooled classical and electronic music background, while Pigpen was a no-nonsense deep blues lover and drummer Bill Kreutzmann had a jazz and R&B background. For comparison purposes, their first LP (The Grateful Dead, Warner Brothers, 1967), was released in the same year that Pink Floyd released The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The Grateful Dead's early music (in the mid 1960s) was part of the process of establishing what "psychedelic music" was, but theirs was essentially a "street party" form of it. They developed their "psychedelic" playing as a result of meeting Ken Kesey in Palo Alto, CA and subsequently becoming the house band for the Acid Tests he staged. After the Dead relocated to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, their "street party" form developed out of the many psychedelic dances, open-air park events, and closed-street Haight-Ashbury block parties at which they played. The Dead were not inclined to fit their music to an established category such as pop rock, blues, folk rock, or country/western. Individual tunes within their repertoire could be identified under one of these stylistic labels, but overall their music drew on all of these genres and more, frequently melding several of them. It was doubtless with this in mind that Bill Graham said of the Grateful Dead, "They're not the best at what they do, they're the only ones that do what they do." Often (both in performance and on recording) the Dead left room for exploratory, spacey soundscapes.
Their live shows, fed by their improvisational approach to music, made the Grateful Dead different from most other touring bands. While most rock and roll bands rehearse a standard show for their tours that is replayed night after night, city after city, the Grateful Dead never did. As Garcia stated in an 1966 interview, "We don't make up our sets beforehand. We'd rather work off the tops of our heads than off a piece of paper." They maintained this operating ethic throughout their existence. For each performance, the band drew material from an active list of a hundred or so songs. Due to the band's varied song selection and the improvisational nature of their playing, no two Grateful Dead concerts were exactly the same.
The early records reflected the Dead's live repertoire—lengthy instrumental jams with group improvisation, best exemplified by "Dark Star"—but, lacking the energy of the shows, did not sell well. The 1969 live album Live/Dead did capture more of their essence, but commercial success did not come until Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, both released in 1970. These records largely featured the band's laid-back acoustic musicianship and more traditional song structures.
The year 1970 included tour dates in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the band performed at The Warehouse for two nights. On January 31, 1970, the local police raided their hotel on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, and arrested and charged a total of 19 people with possession of various drugs. The second night's concert was performed as scheduled after bail was posted. Eventually the charges were dismissed, with the exception of those against sound engineer Owsley Stanley, who was already facing charges in California for manufacturing LSD. This event was later memorialized in the lyrics of the song "Truckin'", a single from American Beauty which reached number 64 on the charts.
As the band and its sound matured over thirty years of touring, playing, and recording, each member's stylistic contribution became more defined, consistent, and identifiable. Lesh, who was originally a classically-trained trumpet player with an extensive background in music theory, did not tend to play traditional blues-based bass forms, but opted for more melodic, symphonic and complex lines, often sounding like a second lead guitar. Weir, too, was not a traditional rhythm guitarist, but tended to play jazz-influenced, unique inversions at the upper end of the Dead's sound. The two drummers, Mickey Hart and Kreutzmann, developed a unique, complex interplay, balancing Kreutzmann's steady beat with Hart's interest in percussion styles outside the rock tradition. Hart incorporated an 11-count measure to his drumming, bringing a new dimension to the band's sound that became an important part of its emerging style. Garcia's lead lines were fluid, supple and spare, owing a great deal of their character to his training in fingerpicking and banjo.
The band's primary lyricists, Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow, commonly used themes involving love and loss, life and death, gambling and murder, beauty and horror, chaos and order, God and other religious themes, travelling and touring, etc. Less frequent ideas include the environment and issues from the world of politics.
Although he intensely disliked the appellation, Jerry Garcia was the band's de facto musical leader and the source of its identity. Garcia was a charismatic, complex figure, simultaneously writing and playing music of enormous emotional resonance and insight while leading a personal life that often included various forms of self-destructive excess, including well-known drug addictions and obesity. Garcia also suffered for most of his life from a condition called sleep apnea. His sleep apnea was apparently diagnosed before he died, but it is unlikely that he ever took any steps to treat it. That his case might have been relatively severe may be surmised by the comments of his bandmate, Phil Lesh. In Lesh's book, Searching for the Sound, My Life with the Grateful Dead, Lesh relates how he and others were impressed with Garcia's loud and widely fluctuating snoring.
Garcia's early life was profoundly affected by a series of tragedies. As a small boy, at the age of five, he witnessed his father's death by drowning in a freak accident while fishing in the Russian River. Earlier, at the age of four, the middle finger of his right hand was accidentally amputated by his brother while the two boys were splitting kindling. Finally, as a young man, he was involved in a horrendous car accident which resulted in the death of a close friend.
Following Garcia's death in August 1995, the remaining members formally decided to disband. Since that time however, there have been a number of reunions by the surviving members involving various combinations of musicians.
In 1998, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart, along with several other musicians, formed a band called the Other Ones. The Other Ones performed a number of concerts that year, and released a live album, The Strange Remain, the following year. In 2000, the Other Ones toured again, this time with Bill Kreutzmann but without Lesh. After taking another year off, the band was active again in 2002. With Lesh's return for this go-round, the Other Ones then included all four former Grateful Dead members who had been in the band for most or all of its history.
In 2003, the Other Ones changed their name to the Dead. After tours in 2003 and 2004, the Dead went on hiatus. In 2008, members of the Dead played two concerts, called "Deadheads for Obama" and "Change Rocks". In 2009, the Dead started touring again.
Since 1995, the former members of the Grateful Dead have also pursued solo musical careers. Bob Weir & RatDog have performed many concerts and released several albums, as have Phil Lesh and Friends. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann have each led several different bands and have also released some albums. Recently Mickey Hart has been working with his Mickey Hart Band and Kreutzmann has been touring with BK3. Donna Godchaux has returned to the music scene, with the Donna Jean Godchaux Band, and Tom Constanten also continues to write and perform music. All of these groups continue to play Grateful Dead music.
On February 10, 2007, the Grateful Dead received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was accepted on behalf of the band by Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. Following the 2009 summer reunion tour bandmates Phil Lesh and Bob Weir formed the band Furthur which debuted in September 2009.
On April 24, 2008, members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart, along with Nion McEvoy, CEO of Chronicle Books, University of California, Santa Cruz chancellor George Blumenthal, and UCSC librarian Virginia Steel, held a press conference announcing that UCSC's McHenry Library would be the permanent home of the Grateful Dead's complete archival history from 1965 up to the present. The archive includes correspondence, photographs, fliers, posters, and several other forms of memorabilia and records of the band. Also included are unreleased videos of interviews and TV appearances that will be installed for visitors to view, as well as stage backdrops and other props from the band's concerts.
Chancellor Blumenthal stated at the event, "The Grateful Dead Archive represents one of the most significant popular cultural collections of the 20th century; UC Santa Cruz is honored to receive this invaluable gift. The Grateful Dead and UC Santa Cruz are both highly innovative institutions—born the same year—that continue to make a major, positive impact on the world." Guitarist Bob Weir stated, "We looked around, and UC Santa Cruz seems the best possible home. If you ever wrote the Grateful Dead a letter, you'll probably find it there!"
Professor of music Fred Lieberman was the key contact between the band and the university, who let the university know about the search for a home for the archive, and who collaborated with Mickey Hart on two books in the past, Planet Drum and Drumming at the Edge of Magic.
Hal Kant was an entertainment industry attorney who specialized in representing musical groups. He spent 35 years as principal lawyer and general counsel for the Grateful Dead, a position in the group that was so strong that his business cards with the band identified his role as "Czar".
Kant brought the band millions of dollars in revenue through his management of the band's intellectual property and merchandising rights. At Kant's recommendation, the group was one of the few rock 'n roll pioneers to retain ownership of their music masters and publishing rights.
In 2006, the Grateful Dead signed a ten year licensing agreement with Rhino Entertainment. Rhino is managing the Dead's business interests, including the release of musical recordings, merchandising, and marketing. The band retains creative control and keeps ownership of the music catalog.
The Grateful Dead are well-known for constantly touring throughout their long career, playing more than 2300 live concerts. They inadvertently promoted a sense of community among their fans, who became known as Deadheads, many of whom followed their tours for months or years on end. In their early career, the band also dedicated their time and talents to their community, the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco, making available free food, lodging, music and health care to all comers; they were the "first among equals in giving unselfishly of themselves to hippie culture, performing 'more free concerts than any band in the history of music'.
With the exception of 1975, when the band was on hiatus and played only four concerts together, the Grateful Dead performed many concerts every year, from their formation in April, 1965, until July 9, 1995. Initially all their shows were in California, principally in the San Francisco Bay Area and in or near Los Angeles. They also performed, in 1965 and 1966, with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, as the house band for the Acid Tests. They toured nationally starting in June 1967 (their first foray to New York), with a few detours to Canada, Europe and three nights at the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt in 1978. They appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Their first UK performance was at the Hollywood Music Festival in 1970. Their largest concert audience came in 1973 when they played, along with The Allman Brothers Band and The Band, before an estimated 600,000 people at the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. Many of these concerts were preserved in the band's tape vault, and several dozen have since been released on CD and as downloads. The Dead were known for the tremendous variation in their setlists from night to night -- the list of songs documented to have been played by the band exceeds 500. 
Their numerous studio albums were generally collections of new songs that they had first played in concert. The band was also famous for its extended musical jams, which featured both individual improvisations as well as distinctive "group-mind" improvisations during which each of the band members improvised individually while simultaneously blending together as a cohesive musical unit. Musically, this may be illustrated in that the band not only improvised within the form of songs, but also with the form. The Grateful Dead have often been quoted as having never played the same song the same way twice. The cohesive listening abilities of each band member made for a very elevated level of what might be called "free form" and improvisation. Their concert sets often blended songs, one into the next (a segue).
The Wall of Sound was an enormous sound system designed specifically for the Grateful Dead. The band was never satisfied with the house system anywhere they played, so in their early days, soundman Owsley "Bear" Stanley designed a public address (PA) and monitor system for them. Bear was the Grateful Dead's soundman for many years; he was also one of the largest suppliers of LSD. Stanley's sound systems were delicate and finicky, and frequently brought shows to a halt with technical breakdowns. After Stanley went to jail for manufacturing LSD in 1970, the group briefly used house PAs, but found them to be even less reliable than those built by their former soundman. In 1971, the band purchased their first solid-state sound system from Alembic Inc Studios. Because of this, Alembic would play an integral role in the research, development, and production of the Wall of Sound. The band also welcomed Dan Healy into the fold on a permanent basis that year. Healy would mix the Grateful Dead's live sound until 1993.
Fans and enthusiasts of the band are commonly referred to as Dead Heads. While the origin of the term may be shrouded in haze, Dead Heads were made canon by the legendary notice placed inside the Skull and Roses album by manager Jon McIntire:
Who are you? Where are you?
How are you?
send us your name and address
and we'll keep you informed
Many of the Dead Heads would go on tour with the band. As a group, the Dead Heads were considered very mellow. "I'd rather work nine Grateful Dead concerts than one Oregon football game," Police Det. Rick Raynor said. "They don't get belligerent like they do at the games".
Like several other bands during this time, the Grateful Dead allowed their fans to record their shows. For many years the tapers set up their microphones wherever they could. The eventual forest of microphones became a problem for the official sound crew. Eventually this was solved by having a dedicated taping section located behind the soundboard, which required a special "tapers" ticket. The band allowed sharing of tapes of their shows, as long as no profits were made on the sale of their show tapes. Sometimes the sound crew would allow the tapers to connect directly to the soundboard, which created exceptional concert recordings. Recently, there have been some disputes over which recordings archive.org could host on their site. Currently, all recordings are hosted, though soundboard recordings are not available for download, but rather in a streaming format. Update: As of 2009 soundboard recordings from the Bill Graham Archive are available for free streaming and download at Grateful Dead. Of the approximately 2,350 shows the Grateful Dead played, almost 2,200 were taped, and most of these are available online. Concert set lists from a subset of 1,590 Grateful Dead shows were used to perform a comparative analysis between how songs were played in concert and how they are listened online by Last.fm members.
Over the years, a number of iconic images have come to be associated with the Grateful Dead. Many of these images originated as artwork for concert posters or album covers.
|(June 1965 – September 1967)|
|(September 1967 – November 1968)||
|(November 1968 – January 1970)||
|(January 1970 – February 1971)||
|(February 1971 – October 1971)||
|(October 1971 – March 1972)||
|(March 1972 – June 1972)||
|(June 1972 – October 1974)||
|(October 1974 – February 1979)||
|(April 1979 – July 1990)||
|(September 1990 – March 1992)|
|(May 1992 – August 1995)||
|Also known as||The Warlocks, The Dead|
|Origin||San Francisco, California, USA|
|Labels|| Warner Bros. (1966–1972)|
Grateful Dead (1973–1976)
Rhino (Remasters) (2001–present)
|Associated acts|| Jerry Garcia Band|
Phil Lesh and Friends
The Other Ones
New Riders of the Purple Sage
Bobby and the Midnites
Legion of Mary
| Jerry Garcia|
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan